Major U.S. retailers on Thursday reported strong sales gains for January, a transition month when stores clear out leftover holiday merchandise to make room for fresh spring lines.
"January's retail sales were stronger than anyone expected and reflected real demand by consumers," said Janet Mangano of Josephthal & Co.
Edward Johnson of Johnson Redbook Service said that in the weeks immediately after Christmas, the customer rested. "But sales picked up sharply in the fourth week of January," he said.
Sales on a comparable basis in stores open at least one year rose about 5% industrywide from a year earlier, according to analysts' estimates.
Chains specializing in apparel had the best growth while several mass merchandisers, including the nation's largest retailer, Sears, Roebuck & Co., tallied increases below the industry average.
January is typically slow in the retailing trade, and the month marks the end of the fiscal year for many merchants. Consumers usually have spent their buying urges at Christmas, and some people enter the new year with credit card debts that discourage them from shopping for a while.
Widespread price cutting and other promotions this past holiday season--particularly by debt-laden department stores desperate to raise cash--may have left buyers more bloated than usual.
Among the leaders was the Gap, an apparel retailer whose sales climbed 24% on a comparable-store basis. Sears, which has been reporting disappointing results and may be pulling back from its "everyday-low-prices" strategy launched early last year, said same-store sales rose 3.3%.
MAJOR RETAILERS' SALES IN JANUARY
In millions Jan. % of dollars 1990 change Sears 2,170 +2.2 K mart 1,790 +13.1 Wal-Mart Stores 1,840 +24.0 J.C. Penney 779 + 8.5 Dayton Hudson 711 +12.2 May Dept. Stores 471 + 5.2 Melville Corp. 426 +9.1 Woolworth 283 +8.5 Limited Inc. 285 +11.0 TJX * 106 +12.2 Montgomery Ward 278 - 3.8